"Bitterness does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored... than the vessel on which it is poured."
~ Anonymous

“Bitterness does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored… than the vessel on which it is poured.”
~ Anonymous

The Neuroscience of Bitterness

I have a seminar participant to thank for this latest quote that speaks to the effects of harboring bitterness, or holding on to bitter thoughts of another. This reminds me of a similar quote that I use in my seminars: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die,” by Malachy McCourt. These quotes, and others like them remind us to think twice before we actively hold on to resentment or bitterness because of the poisonous and harmful effects such thoughts have upon us and our lives. The effects of such a perspective can be anything from headaches and an upset stomach to chronic and debilitating illness (or reduced ability to heal), but whatever the form, it is almost always negative.

While I certainly support the idea of letting go of anger, bitterness, and resentment toward anyone (especially ourselves), I tend to come from a slightly different perspective in suggesting ways to create a more purposeful and meaningful experience of life, for you see, as wise and true as each of these quotes are, they share a philosophy that says the reason or motivation to change is to avoid harm, i.e., we should avoid harboring bitterness because it harms us more than whoever we are feeling “bitter” about. Similarly, we should avoid resentment because it poisons us and has little effect on anyone else. Again, these perspectives are certainly true, however, notice the energy behind the words. It seems to suggest fear or avoidance of pain (bitterness, resentment, poison, etc.) is the way to create a life of love and happiness. Now, if you are choosing between feeling bitter and resentful or not, then “not” would seem to be the best choice. However, what if there is another way to look at this wisdom that has us doing more than just rejecting what we don’t want and instead, has us creating what we do want?

Here is where I suggest that the idea of purposeful self-definition can come into play in a very powerful way. For example, rather than just rejecting the holding of bitterness or resentment, what if we went one step further and asked: “What are the qualities or characteristics that I want to use to define who I am and who I want to become? Or, what would I teach/recommend to someone I loved if they were in this situation? Chances are that bitter and/or resentful would never enter the picture.

You see, I have a belief that if we create ourselves and our lives “on purpose” (or deliberately, and with a sense of purpose) then we automatically avoid such destructive perspectives as bitterness and resentment. However, we wouldn’t be rejecting them so much as never even considering them in the first place. Instead, our creative thoughts would be focused on defining ourselves in a way that is congruent with who we want to be, which would result in our holding images of bringing this more purposeful way of being to life. This focus would not only have us coming from the clear, confident, and creative part of the brain, it would ensure that what we “stored” (held onto as valuable) and “poured” (how we interacted with others) was indeed a purposeful experience.

From this new perspective, the vessel in which our feelings are stored will reap the benefits of this more purposeful creating and holding of thoughts, as will the vessels on which these more purposeful thoughts are poured. If this appeals to you, I suggest that you look for opportunities to practice this creative process. In other words, here’s to a life of storing and pouring “on purpose.”

~ All the best, Dr. Bill